The Order of Business is No. 1, motion re the recast of the EU reception conditions directive, No. 2013/33/EU, referral to joint committee, to be taken without debate at conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 2, Finance Bill 2017 [Certified Money Bill] - Report and Final Stages, to be taken at 3.15 p.m.; and No. 3, Public Service Pay and Pensions Bill 2017 – Second Stage, to be taken at the conclusion of No. 2, with the time allocated for group spokespersons not to exceed eight minutes each and for all other Senators not to exceed five minutes each.
Order of Business
The Ombudsman, Peter Tyndall, has published a report on the administration of the Magdalen laundries redress scheme by the Department of Justice and Equality. The report vindicates what survivors and campaigners have been saying about inadequacies and failures in the delivery of the scheme. It seems from the report that women were denied access to the redress scheme as a result of serious irregularities within the Department of Justice and Equality. Over the course of a year, the Ombudsman investigated 27 complaints relating to the administration of the scheme. He published his report last week after a year of work.
The terms of reference of the scheme have been interpreted particularly narrowly, with the result that applicants have been barred from accessing the scheme. The report also highlighted examples of evidence not being followed up and a lack of consistency in applying the criteria for access to the scheme. Alarmingly, it found a blanket refusal to include in the scheme persons who were in any of the institutions listed under the remit of the Residential Institutions Redress Board. The Ombudsman found this refusal manifestly unfair.
The report also showed that the Department of Justice and Equality relied heavily on word of mouth statements from the various orders. The Ombudsman also noted serious delays in making payments to successful applicants to the scheme. He recommended an immediate review of the scheme, particularly the blanket bar from accessing the scheme applied to those who were resident in the institutions listed in the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme. When wrong is done in any part of society, whether by a politician, Department or hospital, rather than facing up to and remedying our failures, we seem to double down which causes much more hurt to individuals who have been treated unfairly. I call on the Minister to address the House as part of a debate on the report in the new year.
I also raise the tragic shooting in Blanchardstown yesterday. I convey my sympathies and those of the Fianna Fáil Party group to the victims and their families. We learned yesterday that a baby was shot in the leg in this highly concerning incident. I pray that the feud will not continue and there will not be any escalation or retaliation in respect of these matters. Our thoughts are with those who were injured and are in hospital.
I call on the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House to discuss how he intends to improve outcomes on the serving of summonses. We learned with shock in a "Prime Time Investigates" programme broadcast last night that one in four summonses is not served correctly.
We are led to believe that progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations since the House last met. I acknowledge the work done on this issue by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney. It is important that we recap to clearly understand what has been agreed. In that regard, I will be interested to hear if anyone has a different understanding from me on what occurred.
It is my understanding that, as a result of the protracted negotiations between the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, and others in the United Kingdom and European Union, it is clearer that the Good Friday Agreement will be protected and everyone born in Northern Ireland will continue to have the right to Irish and, therefore, European Union citizenship. Moreover, the common travel area allowing unimpeded travel between the UK and Ireland will continue, and UK and Irish citizens will continue to enjoy freedom to work and study and access to housing, health care, pensions and welfare in both countries.
The UK has committed to ensuring that, in the North, there will be no diminution of human rights safeguards and equality of opportunity, as set out in European law. These are simple and important achievements. Given the complexity of the debate on Brexit, it is incumbent on politicians that we demystify the intrigue and language surrounding this issue and try to explain in simple terms and concepts what the negotiations are about. I have highlighted only some of the key issues.
I ask the Government to maintain pressure in fighting for the interests of the people of the island of Ireland. It is nice to see this much used term being used more often in political dialogue, debate and discussion. The key message is that we must protect the interests of the people of the island of Ireland in terms of prosperity and peace. I ask the Government to maintain focus and not to apologise for fighting for and seeking the best deal for the island of Ireland and its people, North, South, east and west.
I call on the Leader to ask the Minister for Education and Skills to come to the House early in the new year for a comprehensive debate on Caranua, an organisation established under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012 to manage €110 million pledged by the religious congregations to survivors of abuse. In simple terms, Caranua has failed to meet the complex needs and requirements of many of the survivors of abuse.
We need to examine this. There is a lot of money that was meant to address issues such as health care, housing, physical and mental health, emotional well-being and, possibly, education and training but these areas have not been fully addressed. They are complex issues and there are complex difficulties associated with many people who have suffered and survived institutional abuse. We need to consider this again. We need to engage with the victims of abuse and the organisations and put together a review. I would like to have a review but it is important that the Minister would attend the House first to explain the background to it and outline his intentions and plans.
I want to bring to the attention of the Seanad a letter published in yesterday's edition of The Irish Post that was signed by more than 200 members of civic nationalism. The letter expresses the frustration and abandonment felt by the nationalist community at the repeated failure by the British Government to implement all aspects of previous agreements. It is deeply worrying for the nationalist community that, as aspects of Brexit are negotiated in Brussels and elsewhere, much of the content and detail of the agreement relies on the British Government implementing it because the British Government does not have good form in this regard.
The letter was signed by citizens from the worlds of sport, law, academia, community, business, education and the media. The reality is that nationalists in Ireland no longer look to Westminster for leadership or direction on the issues concerning them. They are increasingly looking to the Dublin Government to provide leadership. The result of the two elections this year made that abundantly clear when Sinn Féin was given an increased mandate for its explicit abstinence policy.
Many of these people see the impact of the failure to implement previous agreements in their professional lives. Lawyers have witnessed the impact that delayed inquests and inquiries have on the relatives of those killed and injured in the conflict. The letter states:
This is most recently instanced in the British Government's refusal to move on the legacy inquest rights. The Conservative Party's political pact with the DUP has now become a grave threat to political progress.
This letter should be viewed as an indication that nationalists and republicans want to see the institutions restored and working.
In terms of some of the simple and nonsensical debate around why the institutions do not just get up and running, the institutions are no use to anyone unless they are underpinned by equality and parity of esteem and this must be part of a rights-based society. There is no point in restoring the institutions if they fail to provide the rights of citizens that are available across these islands. The Irish Government needs to be proactive on the issue. The current crisis has come about due to the actions of the DUP and the Tory Party. By convening the intergovernmental conference immediately, pressure can be directly placed on the British not to capitulate to regressive elements and to deliver the rights and protections for citizens that could see the institutions restored again.
The Taoiseach spoke last week of the Irish Government never again abandoning Northern nationalists. They have stated clearly what is now needed and the Taoiseach must heed it and act. Notwithstanding having learned today that the Taoiseach will be coming into the Chamber in February, I ask that he attend in the new year to discuss how he intends to put these welcome words of never again abandoning Northern nationalists into action. It is important that the Taoiseach attend the House. However, this is a substantive issue in itself and I would welcome the Taoiseach attending to discuss that element purely with us and how he will implement what he said.
Ireland's opting into the EU reception directive should be broadly welcomed for two reasons. The first is that the directive addresses the right to work for asylum seekers, which the recent Supreme Court judgment stated clearly the State must do. Second, it explicitly requires the State to ensure that the best interests of children are considered in all decisions relating to their asylum application as well as their general well-being and development, as is now the case in much other Irish law. However, direct provision remains an anarchic system of institutionalisation and marginalisation of asylum seekers that should be completely abolished.
I have a strong understanding of this through working with people with disabilities. We are struggling very hard to make sure people with disabilities do not go into institutions.
Listening to "Morning Ireland" earlier today, I heard an Irish family member speak of the devastation Huntington's disease has brought to her family over the past 25 years through its effect on her husband through the slow and heartbreaking loss of his ability to walk, to talk and to think. One of her children is positive for the condition as well, and she has the same fate ahead of her. This does not just affect the individual. It is hereditary. They and all of the other 750 families affected are desperate for a therapy to stop this disease from taking hold. They are looking for the straw of hope for the first time. Yesterday, the success of the first human trial of a Huntington's-lowering drug was announced. Ionis-HTTRx lowers the harmful huntingtin protein in the nervous system. This trial will move into the next phase, available to a much larger group of patients. The question is how Irish folk who have or will have this condition can access this opportunity, which is an opportunity of hope. The Huntington's Disease Association of Ireland is calling for vital Huntington's disease specialist services to be available here in Ireland in order that patients devastated by what I can only describe as the cruellest of cruel illnesses can be part of this potentially life-saving clinical trial.
We are all aware of the need for improved resourcing and development of neurological services in general. There is actually not one nurse specialist here in Ireland to deal with this cohort or to give them some support. To put that in perspective, in Northern Ireland there are two to fill that post, and we wish them well with that. I am asking the Leader to make his best efforts, as I am sure he will, to request that the Minister for Health would do everything possible to make sure that along with people from North America and across Europe, people here in Ireland have access to these trials. I cannot overemphasise the fact that this is the first moment that these people will have some hope of avoiding 20 to 25 years of a devastating condition.
I want to raise two issues this afternoon. I wish to ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to attend the House to address an issue which I think most Members would agree is a major problem in Irish society. It is not a new problem, but in the last number of weeks, as has been alluded to already, it has become prominent. I refer to the area of gun crime. Very close to where I live, there was an interception of a gang apparently on the way to commit a murder. Intercepting that person was great work by the Garda. A garda was shot in the line of duty only days ago, and then, shockingly, this week we have heard reports of a baby being caught in the crossfire. Too often in society, when there is a gun crime or a shooting, it is dismissed as gangland. Sometimes people will even say that as long as gangs are doing it to each other, it does not affect them. We cannot really live in a society that would stand over such comments as that. This week it is quite clear that gardaí are putting their bodies on the line and even infants often get caught in the crossfire.
It is time to have a national debate on gun crime, how it is affecting our society and how children are being desensitised to it. It is particularly disturbing, I would suggest, that any child would grow up anywhere in Ireland and hear that there has been a murder overnight in their area. It is not good enough, it is not normal, it is not right, and we should never ever consider it to be normal. It would befit this House to have such a debate with the Minister for Justice and Equality and allow him to outline his attempts to tackle this very serious issue.
Unfortunately, there is a certain amount of empowerment that comes with handling a firearm and young people are often attracted to that way of life. We need to understand the reasons behind that and tackle them.
Related to that, I would like to have another debate with the Minister for Education and Skills on the wide-ranging issue of educational disadvantage. We had some positive statistics last week on the rate of literacy among children in Ireland. Much credit has to go to successive Ministers in that regard. For our part in the Labour Party, in the previous Government we placed a huge emphasis on literacy and it is good to see the Government is continuing that good work. All those efforts are to be commended, but there are many overlapping reasons educational disadvantage is still an issue. We still have one child in three leaving the DEIS primary schools with basic reading problems. We have a 17.9% functional illiteracy rate among adults in the country. It is an issue of power that we need to address.
There are many facets to this issue of educational disadvantage. It needs to be tackled from pregnancy to infancy, to early school years and beyond. It is something that should be addressed, if possible, in a wide-ranging debate. If the Leader could facilitate that debate, it would be of great benefit to see how we can empower all citizens to seek a life for themselves in mainstream society through education and not to turn to other areas of empowerment which, unfortunately, we have seen cause such devastation to families and to members of the Garda Síochána this week.
I want to raise an issue with regard to the funding for maintenance for national and regional roads. Obviously, the recent news that the budget for capital investment in the road infrastructure is to increase and the budget for regional and local roads is to increase was welcome. However, one of yesterday's newspapers reported that the maintenance grant for 2018 was to be reduced from €26 million to €22 million. After the weekend we have had, particularly in the areas seriously affected by snow, there is something that does not add up here. Perhaps it is merely a matter of clarification. It is something on which I have submitted a Commencement matter as well. Will the Leader seek clarity from the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on this issue? While I am at it, I compliment all the local authority workers who worked around the clock on a couple of days, particularly Saturday night and Sunday night last, in freeing up and gritting the roads.
I thank Senator O'Mahony for his brevity.
Following on from the remarks by Senator Ó Ríordáin, this has been a very bad year publicity-wise for An Garda Síochána with the whistleblower saga, the tribunals, the penalty points, etc. It is important at the end of the year that we, as legislators, declare again our full support and admiration for the work being done by An Garda Síochána to keep us and the citizens of this country safe. This is an issue which has been raised by the Leader and by many other Senators, particularly on my side of the House by Senators Leyden and Gallagher.
We had a pleasant ceremony at the weekend where a number of gardaí were singled out for the special award of the Scott medal for bravery. I am sure Senators followed it in the newspaper. Indeed, the Cathaoirleach must be proud that a close relation of his was a recipient of one of the Scott medals for bravery. There was an interview with a garda who had the trauma of having a gun pointed at her head after facing down armed gunmen already and she stated significantly that she realised that the Garda uniform is not a shield. Of course, it is not. Gardaí are unarmed, but their shield is the support and respect that they enjoy from the ordinary people. We are all aware of heroism and bravery by the ordinary garda on the street.
Anyone who has been in these Houses for any length of time, and living in Dublin, will have seen it for themselves. I have often witnessed gardaí facing down groups of violent young men on the streets, merely through their presence, calmness and coolness. We know they are now faced with gun crime on the widest scale seen since the Provisional IRA decided it was in the wrong. Only for this the Garda would face a double attack, but the attack now is organised as opposed to political crime. I want to reaffirm our support for the Garda, many members of whom have paid the ultimate sacrifice, including my neighbour, the late Jerry McCabe. We know what happened to him. It is timely to restate our support when the Garda is under pressure from the media morning, noon and night.
I raise the issue of section 39 workers again. Over the course of this week and next, thousands of these workers in our hospices, community hospitals and the intellectual disability sector are being balloted for all-out strike action. It is hard to comprehend that they have been forced into this action. Even the Taoiseach acknowledged some weeks ago in the Dáil that the link between section 39 workers and the rest of the public service should have been maintained. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Finian McGrath, says he supports their case for equality, yet with the Departments of Finance and Health passing the buck from one to the other, thousands of workers are now being balloted for all-out strike action as they face into Christmas. Frankly, their case is unanswerable, as even the Workplace Relations Commission has stated they are in the right. The absence of responsibility from the Government to date is frankly inexcusable. I call for a debate on the matter as soon as practicable. The Government parties must shoulder some responsibility in this regard. It is not good enough to say they agree with section 39 workers such as colleagues and friends of mine in the Daughters of Charity and Brothers of Charity in Limerick. They say they agree there is an injustice but decide to do absolutely nothing about it. Let us have a debate on the issue but, more important, in the interim, while these workers are being balloted, let us show the common sense that is required. In other words, the Government must engage in a process whereby these workers can get back the money they so justly deserve. That is all they are looking for. They are simply seeking a process to be initiated to give them back the money they so richly deserve. The irony is everyone in this Chamber will agree with me but no one on the Government benches seems prepared to do a damn thing about it.
I raise the issue of the gritting of secondary roads. We had bad frosty weather over the past few nights but secondary roads in my area near Athboy, Kildalkey, Enfield and Oldcastle are not being gritted. Some of them are on main bus routes. A few weeks ago, a bus went into the ditch in Kildalkey because there was no grit on the road and it could not get any traction on a bad corner. Yesterday, when I was dropping a friend home, we came across a lady with a young child who was after going into a ditch but, thankfully, nobody was hurt. Secondary roads all over Ireland are not being gritted. However, in Scotland, farmers are given a gratuity every year. They store grit, salt, gravel in a bank on their properties and when the bad weather hits, they grit 5 km or 6 km each in their communities. Everything moves in Scotland whereas in Ireland everything falls down because the local authorities do not have enough staff. We have to look at the Scottish way.
That is a good idea.
I thank the Senator. It is a good idea. Two or three years ago, farmers in Kerry went to the gravel yards in order that they could grit the roads. When farmers went to do that in counties Laois and Offaly, they were told they could not because there was no insurance to cover them. We have to consider providing insurance for them as well but the Scottish way works.
They are paying their property tax and everything else yet, because they are on secondary roads, they cannot come out of their homes. They are afraid to go on the roads because they might not get back home.
Can we have the Minister in to speak about the Scottish way? Let us debate it and move forward. There is no reason rural Ireland has to close down due to bad roads.
I want to highlight the issue I raised last week. I was on Molesworth Street a few minutes ago at the peaceful protest by the "My Name Is" campaign around the homelessness situation, at which there was a huge crowd. We really need to look at this issue because people are starting to get tired of the fact they do not see any change. We have to address the issue around homelessness. People are dying on the streets. I know I am repeating myself when I say that over 3,500 children are going to be homeless this Christmas. It is freezing out there, so enough is enough. We have to prioritise this. A national emergency has to be called on the homelessness issue. People are homeless all over the country, not just in Dublin, although I know the numbers are higher in Dublin.
Will the Leader invite in the Minister to give us some kind of progress report on what is going on? People want to know what is being done. I ask that the Minister would come in to give us a progress report because we need to know if this is a priority and if an emergency is being called, given I believe it is a crisis. People are not happy and are constantly contacting me, as are the media. I should not be the one they are contacting because they are asking me what is going on and I do not know. I ask the Leader to bring in the Minister to give us an update on what is going on in regard to the homelessness crisis in this country.
Ba mhaith liom cúpla focal a rá faoi uaigneas. I mo thuairim, tá an fhadhb seo níos measa anois ná riamh. Is fadhb í do dhochtúirí agus an tseirbhís sláinte ar fad mar tá uaigneas olc do shláinte daoine. Is brónach é seo, ach tá sé fíor. Tá an teicneolaíocht tábhachtach ach tá teagmháil phearsanta níos fearr.
Personal contact and interaction with others is much better for us than technology alone. Scientific, medical and, indeed, public policy research on the issue of loneliness all outline the devastating impact that loneliness can have. It is perhaps prophetic that today is the anniversary of the day in 1901 when the Italian physicist and radio pioneer Marconi sent the first radio transmission 2,000 miles across the Atlantic. Marconi transformed communication as we know it. Last week was the 25th anniversary of the first text message. Now, of course, we are awash with communication options - Facebook, FaceTime, Skype and Snapchat, to mention just a few - but, despite all these communication models, people are lonelier than ever. The human interaction is often missing, the knowledge that somebody cared enough to drop in to see that someone was doing okay. The one thing I have come to know is that loneliness never discriminates between young and old, rich and poor or urban and rural. It is now at epidemic levels. We all need to play a role in this battle. The Government has an important role to play also and it needs to immediately establish a loneliness task force or commission.
On a second issue, I propose an amendment to the Order of Business, that No. 15, Courts Service (Amendment) Bill 2017, be taken before No. 1. It is a simple Bill that will bring an end to the farce whereby the Courts Service invests millions of euro in the tobacco industry.
I welcome the announcement yesterday by the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education and Skills that PE is to be included as part of the curriculum and the exams from next year onwards. We are all concerned about health and well-being. It is very important that this be welcomed and embraced by all schools because, for many years, people were obese without being conscious of their health and well-being, or of the need to get enough exercise.
This is a very welcome addition to the school curriculum.
I would like to raise an issue I raised previously, as have others. That is the fodder crisis facing farmers. It is a very serious issue, particularly in the Border counties and the west. Teagasc recently conducted a survey in those affected areas. It claimed that 60% to 70% of farmers surveyed were of the opinion that they were going to be short of fodder now and for the remainder of the year. I echo calls made by the ICMSA and the IFA for the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to get a grip on this situation before it is too late. They have highlighted a number of issues that could potentially assist farmers in a difficult situation. Fodder has been sourced in the south of the country but there are large costs associated with transporting it. The ICMSA and the IFA are looking for a transport subsidy to assist farmers get the fodder to their farms. They are also proposing that a livestock meal voucher system is introduced for farmers that are most acutely affected.
Farmers are under severe pressure. It is stressful because they do not know how their animals are going to be fed at the end of this year. I ask that the Minister, Deputy Creed, come into the House to address what measures he intends to introduce so that farmers will be compensated, in some shape or form, for the fodder that they are going to have to purchase to keep their cattle alive.
I refer first to President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is a highly dangerous and provocative move. There is very little that we can do in this country. However, this House has passed a motion calling on the Government to recognise the state of Palestine. That is something that we can do. I ask the Leader to raise this issue with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, and see if the Government will recognise the state of Palestine.
Today, I came here on the new cross-city Luas. It was a very convenient and efficient service. I congratulate those responsible on bringing it in on time and marginally under budget. This is unusual for a piece of transport infrastructure like this. However, yesterday all my predictions about the dangers of this system were brought to bear. We had complete traffic chaos in the centre of the city. I remember the late Garret FitzGerald, who drew the mathematics about the Luas, demonstrated that even at that time in those conditions of population it was impossible for the Luas to move sufficient numbers of passengers to meet the traffic situation in Dublin.
This is all part of a grand policy to force the private car out of the city. This is totally wrong. We also see this policy in the attitude of the planning authorities in Dublin. They have deliberatively restricted parking facilities in all new developments. Where are people going to park their cars? What about people who actually live in the inner city? Do we not have the right to have a car? I imagine there is a constitutional implication for people who want to have cars in the city. I do not suppose there is time now, but early in the new year can we have a discussion on the whole future of transport for the city of Dublin? With the Luas we have, again as I predicted, a confetti of insulation, wires and all the rest of it creating a very ugly blockage to the viewing of the historical architecture of Dublin.
I echo what my colleague said in congratulating the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Bruton, and the Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, in ensuring that physical education now becomes a major part of the curriculum. Prevention is better than the cure and habits formed early in life are the ones that stay with us.
I welcome the new HIQA Bill that was passed by the Cabinet today. I hope that it will have a speedy passage through both Houses.
As things stand, HIQA has a major role to play in regard to our health services in the public sector but none in the private sector. This Bill was being developed when I was the Minister for Health. It has taken a huge amount of work to get the legislation to this point and I congratulate the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, on getting it through Cabinet today. This is very important from a patient safety perspective. There are lots of clinics, about which we have all heard, that are literally fly-by-night operations. Clinics are being set up and operations are being carried out by people who describe themselves as cosmetic surgeons but who are in fact general practitioners or qualified in some other specialty entirely. I know of one instance where a woman had a procedure carried out which went quite badly wrong. She sought redress and won her court case but the individual involved was not insured. We need HIQA in our private hospitals to ensure standards. Indeed, many public consultants complain about having to deal with the consequences of botched operations in some private hospitals. This is not an attack on private hospitals. The aim is to protect the reputation of those hospitals that do operate to a very high standard but whose reputation is being damaged by private operators that are not meeting basic standards at all. I truly welcome this Bill and hope that when it is passed, HIQA will ensure that we have competent and properly qualified staff operating in clinics that are inspected regularly and held to the same standards as those prevailing in our public hospitals and some of our better private hospitals.
I join Senator Robbie Gallagher in expressing concern about the fodder crisis. I welcome the proposal by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, to establish a fodder action group comprising the IFA, the Department, Teagasc, the co-operatives and the marts. A meeting took place last Monday which was attended by the president of the IFA, Mr. Joe Healy, and several IFA county chairpersons, including Mr. John Hanley from Creggs in County Roscommon. Over 90% of farmers in the Boyle area of north Roscommon are affected by the fodder crisis due to bad weather in the autumn. They are in dire straits. It is a real crisis and I would urge the Minister to come up with a speedy response. I am confident that he will do so and he will receive the support of this House because all Senators from rural Ireland understand the seriousness of the situation.
On the current weather crisis, I join Senator John O'Mahony in commending the county councils who are doing their utmost in the face of very difficult conditions. They are managing to clear the national primary, secondary and regional roads but the back roads are still in pretty grim condition. However, some State agencies need to do more. Roscommon railway station, for instance, was chaotic today. There was one staff member on duty who was trying to direct traffic. No grit had been spread on roads that are the property of Iarnród Éireann. The company should be prepared for adverse weather conditions and take appropriate action from a health and safety point of view. While I commend the fact that trains are still running on time, the management of Iarnród Éireann and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, should be more involved. An action plan should be in place and when weather conditions deteriorate to a certain level, the company must ensure that railway stations and platforms are kept clear and are safe for passengers to use. As I said, there were chaotic scenes in Roscommon earlier. I wish to commend the courageous young staff member who was running the ticket office while also trying to direct traffic and prevent cars from crashing into one another. It was pretty difficult and I hope that Iarnród Éireann will take note of what has been said in Seanad Éireann today.
I wish to raise the issue of Brexit again. The recent statement by the British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr. David Davis, to the effect that the phase 1 agreement was not legally enforceable was very unhelpful. I believe he has since qualified his remarks and has said that it is legally enforceable under the withdrawal arrangements.
We were all a little excited two weeks ago. At the time I stated I was very disappointed with the British edition of The Sun newspaper for effectively telling the Taoiseach to shut his gob as I believed it was both unnecessary to do so and unwarranted. In the past few days we learned that a British parliamentarian did not know the difference between Deputy Enda Kenny and Bertie Ahern and various things. That is unacceptable, but sometimes we need to take a step back. Mr. Adam Boulton, as a presenter, has a right to take on and ask politicians difficult questions and, in turn, the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, answered extremely well. Mr. Boulton then became involved in a media spat and said, "You Irish need to get over yourselves," but perhaps he has a point because sometimes people can be very precious. There have been instances when I have used social media to challenge something that has been said and various groups have responded and sought an apology. Perhaps Mr. Boulton was right when he said, "You Irish need to get over yourselves," just like the Scottish nationalists, the English nationalists and the far left must. Sometimes we over-emphasise things. We fight our corner and are well able to do so, but sometimes we believe the English have said something and should apologise for it. As I said, Mr. Boulton may be right; we have fought a tough battle on Brexit. I do not know Mr. Boulton, but I do know that he did not deserve the media onslaught following the making of his statement. As every politician here knows, after we articulate our points, various groups will attack us. Therefore, I think Mr. Boulton was right.
I, too, wish to refer to the imminent fodder crisis. I welcomed the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine's formation of a fodder crisis action group. I recall the statement made at the time of its formation that it would intervene if it felt there was a need to do so. It has met. As quoted here previously and as a result of that meeting with Teagasc, farmers were surveyed. Some 85% of the farmers surveyed had less than half the amount of fodder they required. However, there is a problem because the bureaucrats will take it that if farmers have 50% of the fodder they require, the crisis will not kick in until the second half of the feeding season. As we know, some of the farmers surveyed may be at a figure of 100%, while others may be well below 50%. Unfortunately, the crisis is hitting the country, which brings the old adage of live horse and get grass to a new level. Cattle are hungry and the inclement weather over the weekend did not help in some cases. Ironically, there is fodder available in the southern half of the country. However, there may not be enough available by the end of the feeding season because we never know when it will ends, as it depends on weather conditions in the spring and early summer. Action must be taken immediately. There have been meetings and meetings about meetings on the crisis. Pushing the inevitable down the line has caused farmers untold grief and mental anguish and many animals face starvation, especially in the west and the north west. There is a need for a subsidy to transport fodder from the south to where it is needed. There is also a need to provide meal vouchers in certain instances. Will the Leader immediately invite the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine to come to the House to debate the matter? The debate will probably take place in the new year, but if that happens, it will only push the problem further down the line. We need the Minister in the House now and he needs to address the problem immediately. Waiting for the second half of the feeding season to arrive is not good enough for the many farmers who are in crisis.
I did not allow the Senator in earlier as it was not appropriate to do so. Does he wish to second the amendment to the Order of Business proposed by Senator Keith Swanick?
I second the amendment.
I thank the Senator.
Ba mhaith liom tacaíocht a thabhairt don mhéid atá ráite go dtí seo maidir le cúrsaí tithíochta i gcomhthéacs na hagóide atá ar súil taobh amuigh de Theach Laighean inniu. Tá an géarchéim tithíochta ag dul ó smacht ar fad. I concur with the thoughts expressed by Senators on the issue of housing. I commend those who organised the protest that is taking place outside Leinster House today. The nature of that protest is also commendable. Those involved are raising the issue in a positive way rather than doing so in another manner.
I am very concerned about reports in the media today about leaks of confidential information relating to the mother and baby home in Tuam. It is disgraceful and appalling that information about DNA sampling of human remains was leaked to newspapers and other media before the Minister, Deputy Zappone, had an opportunity to discuss it with survivors. I note that the Minister has apologised for this and has called on the Taoiseach to sanction an investigation into it. While I agree that there is an absolute need for an investigation, I do not think it should be allowed to drag on. I know from my contacts with survivors of these institutions that they are very frustrated about the slow pace at which the investigation is moving. We now have a delay of another year in the investigation. Many of these people are elderly or are not in the greatest of health. We have called on a number of occasions for a debate on this issue with the Minister. I think it is more important than ever for such a debate to be arranged. When she comes to the House early in the new year, she might bring with her the Department of the Taoiseach report on who leaked this information. How did it come to be leaked in such an insensitive way?
It is appalling that the survivors have had to hear about things like this through the media. We need a debate on this matter because it needs to be kept at the top of the agenda. I am aware that, correctly or incorrectly, there is a sense among survivors of similar scandals, such as the symphysiotomy scandal, that these matters tend to be kicked to touch. We do not want to see the can being kicked down the road while people get older and pass on. Justice must be seen to be done in the case of the mother and baby homes. A debate on this issue is important in the interests of getting clarity on it. Perhaps the Leader could give us an update from the Minister tomorrow. Is this investigation going to happen through the Department of the Taoiseach? Who is going to do it? Has any further information come to light regarding the circumstances in which this sensitive information came to be leaked in such an appalling manner?
I agree with previous speakers. We all support people who need houses. We do not want people to be homeless. We are all fighting to make sure no one is homeless. There should not be anyone in such a position. Everyone deserves a home. I say "well done" to those who are protesting outside Leinster House today.
The Minister for Justice and Equality came to this House last week to discuss an issue with Garda overtime which has since been addressed and sorted. During the debate he said he has recruited 800 gardaí so far this year, but he did not give the names of the Garda stations to which they have been deployed. This is an important aspect of the matter, given that elderly people in my home county of Carlow are nervous because the evenings are dark. It is important to have a Garda presence in cities and rural towns and villages. The presence of gardaí inside and outside our towns makes people feel safe. Can we have clarification on the Garda stations to which the 800 recruits were deployed? The Government previously committed to the reopening of Leighlinbridge Garda station in County Carlow. We need to get clarification on that in the context of the cutbacks that are still having an effect. I will ask the Minister, Deputy Flanagan, to address these issues when he comes to the House.
Before I call Senator Ó Donnghaile, I would like to acknowledge the presence in the Visitors Gallery of the families of those who died in the horrific tragedy in Loughinisland in 1994. They are here for a screening of a documentary, "No Stone Unturned", later this evening. They are very welcome to the Chamber.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirelach as ucht an fháilte a chuir sé roimh na teaghlaigh atá linn. Is pribhléid í go bhfuil siad i láthair inniu. Tá súil agam go mbeidh Seanadóirí in ann freastal ar chraoladh an scannáin sa seomra AV ag a 7 a chlog. I thank the Cathaoirleach for welcoming the families of those who were killed at Loughinisland in 1994. They are here for a dedicated screening for Members of the Oireachtas of the groundbreaking documentary film, "No Stone Unturned", which will be shown in the AV room at 7 p.m. this evening. I encourage all available Members to come along, not just to watch the film and see the sheer and frightening scale of the cover-up and collusion involved in the murders at Loughinisland but also to hear directly from the families of those who were murdered and the survivors of that tragic night who are here for the screening.
I will follow on from the remarks made by Senator Conway-Walsh on yesterday's open letter to the Taoiseach from more than 200 figures representing a broad range of civic nationalism, including individuals from academia, sport, the legal profession, the community and voluntary sector and the Irish language sector. The signatories made a public, open and direct plea to the Taoiseach to remain steadfast and become an active voice in defence of rights and citizenship. Those of us who are Irish citizens but happen to be resident in the Six Counties of the north east want to be able to access the same rights and entitlements as our fellow citizens in the rest of the country and many people across the water who have access to these same rights, whether marriage equality or language rights. In light of my opening remarks, the right to access inquests is particularly pertinent given the sourness that prevails around the issue of legacy and unresolved cases.
I was heartened by the Taoiseach's words that the Government will never again abandon citizens - nationalists and all others for that matter - in the North. However, if we do not become champions of the rights and entitlements I have outlined, the families of the victims of Loughinisland and many other families across the board will continue not only to feel abandoned but to be abandoned. For this reason, I welcome and commend the Taoiseach on his heartening and encouraging remarks. I echo Senator Conway-Walsh's call to have the Taoiseach address the House early in the new year on these specific and important issues.
I join the Cathaoirleach in welcoming our visitors to the Visitors Gallery and commend Senator Ó Donnghaile on hosting the film screening this evening, on which I wish him well.
On a joyful note, on behalf of the House, I extend our comhghairdeas to our colleague and friend, Senator Neale Richmond, and his wife, Babs, on the birth of their new baby boy, Luke Thomas. I wish them well as they start a new journey together. It is good to start the day on a positive note. I am told Babs is doing well and Senator Richmond is doing even better, which is to be commended.
It is a relief.
Senator Richmond was getting worried that the longer the pregnancy lasted, the more rugby matches he would miss. That concern has been resolved and he is now off the hook. Luke Thomas will be heading to the Aviva stadium soon.
Senator Ardagh raised the important issue of the redress scheme, specifically in respect of the Magdalen women. The views of the Department of Justice and Equality and the Ombudsman diverge on this issue. I have read the Ombudsman's report and the commentary on it. Redress is needed, regardless of who is involved. A previous speaker referred to forgetting our past and doubling down. Neither this Government nor its predecessor can be accused of not opening a door on some of the awful tragedies and events in our nation's history. It is important to recognise that some of the institutions in question are included in the Residential Institutions Redress Board scheme. However, everyone concerned should be able to obtain redress and we should work collectively to ensure this occurs.
Senator Ardagh also referred to the "Prime Time Investigates" programme broadcast last night on the issuing of summonses. While I did not see the programme, if one in four summonses is issued incorrectly, the matter must be addressed as a matter of urgency. I presume the Garda Síochána, which issues the summonses, has a role to play in fixing the shortcoming in the system.
Senator Boyhan raised the issue of Brexit and spoke of the island of Ireland. I wish to delve into that issue for a moment. I join the Senator in commending the Government, specifically the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, on their sterling defence of our position as a nation last week.
Senator Boyhan is also correct in his observations that this is about the island of Ireland and the people on it, north, south, east and west. It is important that this continues to be to the forefront of our Brexit deliberations and discussions. Therefore, last week the Government took a determined line in its remarks and stance to represent the island of Ireland.
I am happy to have the Minister for Education and Skills come to the House to address the Caranua matter raised by Senator Boyhan. If the Senator were to raise it as a Commencement matter, he might get a more timely response. However, I will endeavour to have the Minister attend the House in the new year.
Senators Conway-Walsh and Ó Donnghaile referred to the signed letter. It is important that we all stand together, as the voices of republicanism and the voices of unionism, and accept the democratic mandate given to people. It is also important that we accept the institutions of state must work to better people's lives. However, there is a responsibility on all sides to ensure that the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrew's Agreement are implemented. The Senators referred to the remarks of the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach, since he has taken office, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Simon Coveney, have been clear on how they would like to see our Government work with the Government across the water to ensure that we have the institutions of state up and running and that there is an assembly with a Government in the North. Given the mandate about which the Senators spoke, there is an obligation and a duty on all sides, whether the DUP, Sinn Féin, the SDLP or the UUP, to get around the table again to work towards ensuring that we can have a power-sharing executive back up and running.
My views on direct provision are well known and I share Senator Dolan's comments that it is a blight on our State and one that we need to eradicate as a matter of urgency. I often commended Senator Ó Ríordáin on his work in the Department when he was a Minister of State and I now often commend the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton. I believe the Minister of State is genuine in his approach and is working to ensure that the issue is resolved.
What Senator Dolan said about Huntington's disease is awful. As former Chairman of the committee on health, this has touched a number of families whom I personally know. It is an awful imposition on people. I hope that, under the Sláintecare report, we will see the supports about which the Senator spoke put in place to deal with rare diseases. This is about people's lives and it is an awful life sentence, if one likes, to be hanging over a person. I share the Senator's views on it.
I seem to be in a good mood today because I agree completely with Senator Ó Ríordáin on the issue of gun crime and its normalisation. None of us can allow it to happen in our culture, society and communities. We have a duty to work together to ensure that it does not become part of the daily lives of so many people, whether in Dublin city, Cork or elsewhere. I welcome any opportunity to have that debate. Senator Ardagh also sympathised with the family of the victims in Blanchardstown and I join with her in that regard. Gun crime has no place in our society. There are certain protocols to be followed to own a gun but we need to have a debate on the issue of illegal guns and gun ownership.
I concur with Senator Ó Ríordáin on the issue of educational disadvantage. It is important that we work to combat deprivation and that we break the cycle of disadvantage in our education system. To paraphrase the Senator, the last Government was a coalition Government of two parties which willingly signed up to the policies of the Department of Education and Skills, whether introduced by the Minister, Deputy Bruton, the former Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, or the former Minister and Deputy Ruairí Quinn. It is important that we remove the barriers to educational disadvantage. Senator Ó Ríordáin noted that our literacy rates are improving as are our retention rates and completion rates. However, this is about ensuring equality of opportunity in our education system is open to all pupils. Like the Senator, as a teacher I would be strongly of the opinion that we need to have a system that is student-led in breaking that cycle of disadvantage.
That can be done. We have seen the success on literacy. We have seen how we can be innovative and creative, but equally, it is about ensuring that an alternative to the leaving certificate is provided, because not every student can do the leaving certificate. It is also about ensuring that there is access to education. I have a very one-dimensional view on this. If we need to change the model, then let us look at how we can do that. It is not about the type of school that we were perhaps all used to or put through. It is about doing things differently as well. I would very much be of the view that we can have that debate in the new year with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Richard Bruton.
Senator O'Mahony raised the issue of roads and the increased budget for capital investment. Like him, Senators Leyden and Butler commended and complimented the members of the local authority staff who were working on the roads in cold and hazardous conditions. I join all the Members in paying tribute to the workers who were out gritting the roads. There is merit in what Senator Butler said about the Scottish model. Farmers and people living in rural Ireland went to depots, took salt and gravel and did the work themselves. In some cases they were told not to. It is important that we pay tribute to the work that has been done over recent days. We should also thank the members of staff of Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann who got to their place of work to ensure there was a service provided to people.
Senator Ned O'Sullivan also praised the Garda in his remarks. We all acknowledge and pay tribute to the men and women of an Garda Síochána, who perform heroic duty every day, whether it is the simplicity of the job they do and the danger they put themselves in, but also the fact that we know that we are safe and secure in having a very good Garda force, notwithstanding the troubles that may exist in some parts of the Garda, which are being rectified. I commend and thank members of An Garda Síochána for their work.
Senator Gavan raised the issue of workers in section 39 companies. It is a very contentious one. It is about ensuring that there is parity of pay and esteem. There are some workers who have fallen through the cracks between State employment and working for a private organisation or institution. That needs to be rectified. I have said that on the record in the past. The Minister of State will be in the House later to speak on a different Bill. Perhaps Senator Gavan can comment in regard to this issue. It is one that we need to see addressed. Forthcoming legislation in the area of financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, will restore public sector pay when enacted, but there is an anomaly whereby section 39 workers are penalised and victimised. That should be addressed.
I join Senator Black in sympathising with the homeless people who have passed away during recent days. I wish to reassure the Senator and the House that the Government is very much committed to tackling the issue of homelessness. It is a Government priority. Additional resources and funds have allocated and additional beds have been made available. The facts speak for themselves. Public moneys are being allocated through the Rebuilding Ireland plan. Additional beds are being provided for those sleeping rough in Dublin and in Cork.
The Housing First programme supports homeless people. Members may have different viewpoints on how it is being done but that is a different question. We often hear complaints in this House that the Government is doing nothing. The Government is prioritising housing. If we declare it a national crisis, what does that actually mean in real terms? Nothing. It is a headline in a newspaper. The fact is that all of us are committed to ensuring that there are no people living homeless on any street.
People are homeless for a variety of reasons. One of the things that we need to do is tackle the issue of building houses. We need developers to do that. We require social housing units to be provided, acquired and built by local authorities, and we also need to look at why people are homeless. For example, in the budget of this year, €116 million is being allocated to homelessness. That is an increase of €18 million from the previous year. Listening to some people, one would think no money is being allocated. I agree with Senator Murnane O'Connor that this issue must not become a political football. There needs to be a political and a collective will from all sides. That is why the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, commissioned a summit to meet managers of local authorities. It is important that we have a continuing debate in this House, and I would be happy to have it.
Ba mhaith liom cur leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Swanick. Is fadhb mhór do mhuintir na tíre an t-uaigneas, go mórmhór faoin am seo den bhliain, mí na Nollag. Tá a lán daoine ina n-aonar ag an am seo. It is important that we are, as the Senator said, friendly and reach out the hand of friendship. That requires voluntarism. It requires State help, which is being given, but also a change of mindset. Senator Swanick is correct. The issue of loneliness is an important one that needs to be tackled in the context of society. There are people who today may see nobody other than the postman, and that in some cases may be a frequent visit. It is at times like this that one admires people, such as Paddy O'Brien in Cork, who do Trojan work for the elderly, the organisation ALONE in Dublin which was set up by Willie Bermingham and other organisations across the country. It is important to have that debate and I would be happy to have it in the new year. I would be happy to accept the Senator's amendment to the Order of Business in regard to the motion he has spoken about.
I join Senators Byrne and Reilly who referred to the issue of education and the fact PE will now be part of the leaving certificate programme. This is to be welcomed. Senator Reilly, when he was Minister for Health, was strong on Healthy Ireland, the strategy by which we will tackle obesity. It is something we will certainly see the benefit from in time.
Senators Gallagher, Paul Daly and Leyden made reference to the fodder crisis. The Minister, Deputy Creed, was scheduled to be here this week but, unfortunately, as the Senators will be aware, he is away on European duty. Both he and the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, are conscious that there are issues around fodder that need to be addressed. That is why the Minister set up with the working group. The Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, met the president of the IFA, Mr. Joe Healy. As Senator Paul Daly, who I commend on his role, will be aware, the task force is working with Teagasc and different stakeholders on the provision of information on fodder supply and shortage. Its first meeting was last week in Sligo. It is important that it is not only monitoring but activity in the fodder crisis by the Department. The Minister has been in touch with the European Union seeking the advance of the basic payment for 2017. It is a matter that Senators need to keep on the agenda. I certainly share Senator Paul Daly's view that this will happen, given that at this time of year the weather will deteriorate. I hope the Department will be proactive, as it has been. If Senator Paul Daly has any information he can share, it would be very welcome given his experience. It is a matter in which the IFA and the Department are involved but we must keep on top of.
Senator Norris raised the decision of President Trump on the US Embassy in Jerusalem and made reference to the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney. The Minister, in his remarks last week, addressed the issue stating that the move was premature and ill-advised. Like many in the House, I feel it is about ensuring that a resolution is reached in the Middle East peace process. The decision by President Trump last week was very unhelpful in the efforts to bring peace. We all want to see a negotiated resolution in the Middle East peace process and that means recognising that Palestine and Israel must work together, as we have seen in other parts of the world.
Senator Norris also made reference to new parking regulations. I would be happy to have that debate in terms of the planning and the density of new apartment complexes.
I congratulate the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport on the new Luas line. I was surprised Senator Murnane O'Connor did not congratulate the Government on that today, as the spokesperson. The Senator is not transport spokesperson, gabh mo leithsceál.
I compliment the Department anyway.
The Leader is teasing the wrong Senator.
I represent them all.
It is good news for the city of Dublin but few gave the new Luas line a great welcome today.
It is amazing how good news goes untold in the Seanad but it is good to have it anyway. I will do that for the Senator.
Senator Reilly raised the issue of the HIQA Bill in respect of our hospitals. We all want our hospitals to be licensed and to provide the best of care to patients. We will have that discussion when the legislation is taken.
Senator Feighan also made reference to David Davis and Brexit. That has been well documented. A motion is going before the Committee on Procedure and Privileges and we will have a further debate on Brexit later in the term.
Senator Ó Clochartaigh raised the issue of a leak relating to the mother and baby homes inquiry. It is distressing that the leak happened but I did not know about it until I heard his comments. I note his remarks regarding what the Taoiseach and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs said. I am happy to schedule the debate he seeks in the new year. I agree with him that the survivors, and their families and friends, should not have to read information in a newspaper or discover it on television or radio. My mind boggles as to how information such as that can come out. It should not be leaked. This issue concerns the lives of people who have been severely traumatised, and their integrity. I share the Senator's view. I welcome him to this side of the House as well. I hope he is coming closer to us and I wish him well in his new position.
I can throw the odd potshot from here as well.
It is harder to get me from this side. The Senator is coming closer to me. I genuinely wish him well.
Senator Murnane O'Connor sometimes gives me cause to wonder. Garda strength and deployment are operational matters for the Commissioner and the force. If I told her that ten gardaí would be deployed to Leighlinbridge, she would give out to me for getting involved, but I assure her that Councillor Michael Doran is well able to represent-----
As long as we get the Garda station reopened, I will be happy.
The Senator should not worry. Councillor Michael Doran is well able to look after Leighlinbridge and he is doing a good job.
I am here to help him.
We should welcome the fact that the previous Government reopened Templemore college and the current Government has continued the process of recruiting officers. The Senator may recall that a Fianna Fáil-led Government closed the training college and placed an embargo on recruitment. However, it is important to have gardaí on the beat and it is equally critical that the operations of the Department of Justice and Equality and the Garda be separated.
I am happy to accept Senator Swanick's amendment.
I asked the Leader to request the Taoiseach to come to the House specifically on the-----
Gabh mo leithscéal, to be fair, Senators Humphreys and Boyhan also raised the matter previously. The Taoiseach will come to the House on 1 February and we will have a discussion with him. Senator Ó Ríordáin might come in and do a YouTube performance that day.
I raised a substantial stand-alone issue relating to Northern Ireland citizens and the Taoiseach's commitment in this regard. Will the Leader ask him-----
We will work out the logistics of what the Taoiseach covers. We will discuss that.
Senator Conway-Walsh can ask that question when the Taoiseach comes in.
There will be so many questions that I ask that the Leader at least makes the request about this.
I am happy to do that.
Senator Keith Swanick has proposed an amendment to the Order of Business: "That No. 15 be taken before No. 1." The Leader has indicated that he is prepared to accept it. Is the amendment agreed to? Agreed.